The islands Columbus had explored in the Caribbean became known as the West Indies.
Why were Spanish rulers pleased with the Treaty of Tordesillas and Line of Demarcation?
Once Europeans realized that the Americas blocked a sea passage to India, they hunted for a route around or through the Americas in order to reach Asia. The English, Dutch, and French explored the coast of North America unsuccessfully for a “northwest passage,” or a route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific through the Arctic islands. Meanwhile, in 1513, the Spanish adventurer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, helped by local Indians, hacked a passage westward through the tropical forests of Panama. From a ridge on the west coast, he gazed at a huge body of water. The body of water that he named the South Sea was in fact the Pacific Ocean.
On September 20, 1519, a minor Portuguese nobleman named Ferdinand Magellan set out from Spain with five ships to find a way to reach the Pacific. Magellan's ships sailed south and west, through storms and calms and tropical heat. At last, his fleet reached the coast of South America. Carefully, they explored each bay, hoping to find one that would lead to the Pacific. In November 1520, Magellan's ships entered a bay at the southern tip of South America. Amid brutal storms, rushing tides, and unpredictable winds, Magellan found a passage that later became known as the Strait of Magellan. The ships emerged into Balboa's South Sea. Magellan renamed the sea the Pacific, from the Latin word meaning peaceful.
Their mission accomplished, most of the crew wanted to return to Spain the way they had come. Magellan, however, insisted that they push on across the Pacific to the East Indies. Magellan underestimated the size of the Pacific. Three more weeks, he thought, would bring them to the Spice Islands. Magellan was wrong.
For nearly four months, the ships plowed across the uncharted ocean. Finally, in March 1521, the fleet reached the Philippines, where Magellan was killed. On September 8, 1522, nearly three years after setting out, the survivors—one ship and 18 sailors—reached Spain. The survivors had been the first people to circumnavigate, or sail around, the world. Antonio Pigafetta, one of the few survivors of the expedition, observed: “I believe of a certainty that no one will ever again make such a voyage.”
Months of careful planning, provisioning, and loading of supplies went into preparing for Magellan's voyage. Even so, during the long voyage, regular stops for fresh food and water were required.